Don’t tread on me: How well do we really understand stingray venom?

Wading in slow-moving, shallow water on a beach along a tropical river sounds like an idyllic vacation, but last summer, for Brazilian Kalley Ferreira, doing so turned into an unbelievable nightmare. He felt something move under the sand beneath his feet, but before he could react, that unseen something stabbed him in the arch of his left foot. Despite indescribable pain, he still managed to get a good look at the perpetrator, an adult freshwater stingray more than 60 cm wide, flapping silently away. Because he is a physician, Kalley wrote the most detailed case history to date and after prodding from his friend, toxinologist Nelson Jorge da Silva, Jr., he agreed to write a manuscript. Nelson, in turn called upon his colleague, OIST’s Steve Aird, and physician Raimundo Pinto to help. Nelson reviewed the stingray biological literature while Steve evaluated the toxicological and medical literature. Their combined efforts and Kalley’s case history will soon be published in the journal, Toxins. What they discovered came as something of a surprise. Many Brazilian emergency medical personnel have no idea how to treat freshwater stingray stings, largely because so little is known about stingray venoms. In fact, it is far from clear which of the envenomation sequelae arise from toxic substances produced by the stingrays (venom and mucus) and which come from the great variety of bacteria that inhabits the mucus covering the rays. By reading this brief paper and perusing the gory photos of Kalley’s foot, you can enjoy the trauma vicariously,… which is probably the best way to do it.

You can read this paper online for free in Toxins.